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Daycare Bill Aimed At Regulating The Smallest Operations Gets Watered Down

Jessica Palombo

On Monday, a House committee watered down a measure originally requiring the state to license and inspect providers that care for as few as four children. The bill now advancing to its final committee maintains the status quo of five or more children but does clarify how daycare providers can advertise their services.

On Monday afternoon, four children under age five were playing in Nettie Callaway’s Tallahassee home.

Callaway licensed her house as a “family day care home” in 1986 and estimates she’s cared for more than 300 children in the time since. She’s subject to unannounced state inspections every six months and, as her crowded bulletin board shows, there are a host of items she must display alongside her license.

“All kinds of things: universal precautions, discipline…your schedule—you even have to have an evacuation drawing. And practice fire drills,” she says as she points to each piece of paper.

Callaway says although many of the regulations cost her money, she doesn’t mind because they help parents know what they’re getting when entrusting their kids to a licensed home care provider.

“We are and want to be a professional business,” she says. “We’re trying to operate and ensure children’s safety.”

The Florida Department of Children and Families keeps track of thousands of family day care homes like Callaway’s in addition to more than 1,100 registered child care homes, which are not subject to as many regulations.  Current law requires state oversight of child care providers if they regularly watch five or more kids.

But Rep. Lori Berman (D- Lantana) told the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee that DCF recommends that number be lowered to four or more—though a DCF spokeswoman would not confirm that to Florida Public Radio. And that’s what Berman’s original bill would have done.

“Because if somebody is taking care of four children, even four children, they’re really acting as a daycare provider,” she explained. “And we need to know, to protect our children, that those people have gone through the background checks and they’re licensed. This is, plain and simple, a measure to protect your children.”

But an amendment by Rep. John Wood (R- Winter Haven) gutted the main provision of the bill after he raised concerns about imposing restrictions on the smallest child care providers.

“I understand we’re trying to do a better job in regulating it. But at the same time, we have set a standard of five children unrelated to the operator. I want to maintain that,” he said before the vote on the amendment.

Then, with that part of the bill gone, Berman shifted the focus of debate to a provision spelling out day care advertising restrictions.

She said, “What’s going on now is you have people advertising on the Internet and who are advertising all over the place who are not licensed and who are taking the children.”

While current law already requires providers to include their license number on advertisements, the bill clarifies that ads include web pages and digital ads, as well as car signs and print ads. The measure would also make it a misdemeanor to advertise without that number.